Monday, 25 April 2016

Wildflower explorers

 Last week we made the most of the sunshine and got out and about to see the Spring flowers in all their glory.

We took a magnifying glass, a spotter guide and a couple of sandwich bags for samples.

We passes swathes of yellow celandine and then passed into the main woods, with their mingled smell of bluebells and wild garlic.

 The boys carefully looked at the flowers and learned to use the spotter book to look them up.  They then took samples of the commonest varieties that are not protected, smelled everything and enjoyed the riotous singing of the birds and the warmth of the sunshine.  Flowers that appeared in the spotting book were duly awarded a 'seen it' sticker, the time of year ticked, and other observations noted down.

They also compared bare trees with those just starting to come into leaf, and described the differences in leaf shapes and colours.  We all enjoyed watching the tiny caterpillars dangling from silk suspended high above in the newly greening oak trees (this is a defence mechanism to escape predators above I believe).  We even saw a few early butterflies - a male Brimstone, a Speckled Wood and a Peacock butterfly.

For preserving flowers it isn't necessary to buy a flower press.  When we got home we simply laid out a sheet of newspaper each, put a sheet of white paper on this and laid out our flowers so that they didn't touch.  Another sheet of white paper was laid on top, and then another sheet of newspaper.  Finally all was entombed beneath a random selection of books grabbed by the boys based on merit of weightiness.  This was left for two days and then deconstructed to reveal the neatly pressed flowers.

The boys were really excited about their successfully pressed flowers.  Any that had a page in the spotter book were taped in with scotch tape (it doesn't brown and peel with age like regular tape).  Extras were taped into exercise books with the name of the flower and other details noted down. There was a disappointment when the webpage given on each page of the book in order to report sightings kept crashing so it was unusable, but all of the non techy elements of the project went really well,

This is definitely an activity we'll come back to time and time again as both boys have requested it since, and there is a whole world of plants out there to keep them interested.

Book list:  We used 'Wildflower detectives' handbook' from Miles Kelly and The Wildlife Trusts, ISBN 9781848102491 (a pound shop bargain)
plus my old friend the Wildflower Key by Francis Rose, which is excellent for more experienced botanisers

Safety bit: usual precautions and common sense when out and about, for example not picking anything if you don't know exactly what it is - firstly because it could be harmful (the anemone pictured above has a poison warning for example, which I assessed to be safe for our purposes as the kids are old enough to take the warning not to eat it), and secondly because it could be rare and protected (such as the temptingly numerous bluebells which are both protected and poisonous, so not the best candidates for picking).  It's good practice to get kids into the habit of checking with you if it's ok to pick something, and if so how much - the dandelions and daisies can be picked in abundance, but you may only want one specimen of something like a buttercup, the sap of which can cause skin irritation in some folks.  Picking cautiously in places where dogs visit is also advised, dog mess and broken glass are constant things to be vigilant for on our local walks.  I usually take hand wipes and sanitizer with me on any walks, along with a basic first aid kit, sun hats etc...